HMP Onley a fundamentally unsafe prison, say inspectors

By agency reporter
March 22, 2019

HMP Onley, a training prison in Warwickshire with 80 per cent of its population from London, was found by inspectors to be “fundamentally unsafe” with high levels of drugs and violence.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the prison had been assessed as ‘poor’ for safety – the lowest assessment – at the previous inspection in 2016.

When inspectors visited in November 2018, Mr Clarke added, it was “particularly disappointing” to find Onley was still fundamentally unsafe. “Time and again we find that prisons which are unsafe will struggle to make progress in other areas, and HMP Onley was no exception.”

The lack of safety was “all too obvious”. The report noted that the reception wing was chaotic and “new arrivals, still carrying their property and stood in the busy corridor, were approached and faced predation by more experienced prisoners.”

Mr Clarke added: “Perhaps it is not surprising that in our survey only 62 per cent of prisoners said they felt safe on the first night. Sadly, their feelings were an all too accurate reflection of what life in Onley would be like during their time there.”

The prevalence of illicit drugs played a major role in causing destabilising factors such as violence, debt, bullying and health emergencies. During the previous three months there had been 200 emergency health calls related to the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Despite this, we found that far too little was being done to obstruct the flow of drugs into the jail.”

Violence was higher than at similar category C prisons and although prisoner-on-prisoner assaults had decreased since 2016, assaults on staff had more than doubled. Far too many prisoners were self-isolating – refusing to come out of their cells or to go to education, work and training. The prison believed much of the violence was gang-related.

Mr Clarke said: “HMP Onley was a clear example of where the failure to deal with drugs and violence undermined many other aspects of prison life. There was a vicious circle where fear, frustration and boredom increased the demand for drugs, which in turn fuelled the violence.

“In order for Onley to break out of this circle, there must obviously be more effective action taken to reduce violence and the availability of drugs. But at the same time, more can be done in other areas.”

Rubbish was consistently thrown from cells windows and, the report noted, “there were problems with rats, and recent attempts to control the infestation had left some dying in wall cavities and vents, leaving an intolerable smell in some cells.” Accommodation on Onley’s newer wings was better than on its “shabby, cramped” older wings.

Onley was a training prison without enough activity places for the population, and during the inspection only 50 per cent of prisoners were engaged in purposeful activity at any one time. Some 39 per cent of prisoners were locked in their cells during the working day – far too high a proportion for a training prison. Extensive PE facilities were underused by the prison population, which was predominantly young, with around 60 per cent from a black and minority ethnic background.

Inspectors noted that the prison had run a restricted daily regime for more than four years because of chronic staff shortages, though this was gradually being addressed.

Mr Clarke said: “There can also be little doubt that doing more to support family relationships would help prisoners rehabilitate and prepare for their eventual release.” The report noted that Onley was in a remote location but there was no transport for families from local stations.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “I would not wish to detract from the many good things being delivered by dedicated and skilful staff. Health care, education, training, industry and offender management leading to release were all areas where there was some very good provision. Sadly, Onley will fail to fulfil its role as a training and resettlement prison until it can deal with the inextricably linked blights of drugs and violence.”

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, said: “Tackling drugs and violence at Onley is our top priority and, while challenging, significant efforts have been made to drive improvement. These have included a major recruitment drive, with 30 per cent more officers soon to be in place compared to 2018, along with additional security measures such as mail scanners, while a new drug recovery unit is due to open this spring. As the Chief Inspector makes clear, despite the difficulties there is good work going on at Onley to help prisoners turn their lives around and reduce the risk of reoffending on release.”

* Read the inspection report here

* HM Inspectorate of Prisons https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/

[Ekk/6]

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